I read a lot of strength and conditioning research. Sometimes it gets frustrating because the questions I have rarely get answered. One of the biggest problems with strength and conditioning research is that is has to be incredibly narrow, and is rarely “practical” if you look at just one study. You usually have to collect several studies before you can apply anything because each article is like a single brick in a wall. If you don’t delve deep into a topic, your “wall” has holes all over it.
I’ve also heard the saying that “research never proves anything, it only provides evidence.” This is very important to remember, because I see a lot of people read a study and think the conclusions that are drawn are now set in stone. That’s not the case at all. A study simply provides evidence for a theory – it doesn’t prove that theory to be true.
I’ve also heard researchers say that one contradictory study blows a theory. If something can’t be replicated over and over with the same results, it’s not that solid. In our field, you often find studies on the same topic with different results, making it very difficult to know what to really believe.
Most of the time, implementation is the key, and many training programs in studies are not implemented very well – at least not as well as most strength programs are implemented by experienced coaches.
There is also the huge problem of really not being able to do studies on many things because there are too many uncontrollable variables. For example, it would be great to do a study to find out what improves speed more – the clean, the squat, leg press or just sprinting – but that study will NEVER be done. There’s no way to properly implement it and control for everything. Even if it were done, there would probably be so many holes in it, that it wouldn’t really provide us with good information. So, we’re kind of forced to go back into the research, find things that are “kind of similar” and make some inferences. In many cases, that’s about as good as it gets. It can be frustrating, but it’s not going to stop any of us (including me) from reading the studies. We just have to be careful what kinds of decisions we make based off of what we read.
I really like reading strength and conditioning research, and I really like hearing what is actually happening in the trenches. It’s even better when there is a little science to back up what is happening in the real world. I definitely can’t stand listening to people making stuff up – which seems to happen all the time on the internet – but I also don’t want to wait for studies to validate everything we do, because it will never happen.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so we can discuss the pros and cons of strength and conditioning research as well as the pros and cons of simply listening to what “experts” have to say.